On Sunday night, Christian LaCouture set his phone alarm for 6:30 a.m. Monday.
There was no meeting to attend, no math class or breakfast get-together. He was just practicing for Saturday.
“It’s something for me to prepare myself, to get my body ready for all that,” he said Monday afternoon.
LSU practiced Monday again without left tackle KJ Malone.
LSU (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) kicks off against Arkansas (4-5, 1-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday. That’s not-so rare for much of college football. It is in Baton Rouge, where night games are held as tradition.
Since 1969, this is just the 12th game played in Tiger Stadium at noon or earlier, according to the school, and university administrators fought against the early start before the SEC announced the time last Monday.
“I know our fans don’t like it. I don’t either,” athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement to The Advocate on Monday. “I picked up the phone immediately and worked though the SEC to get it changed. The SEC fought for us. They always do on these things.
“We have a great contract with ESPN that affords us a lot of opportunity for exposure and has been very profitable for this program. But every now and then, very rarely, this happens with TV scheduling.”
ESPN and CBS — not the SEC or LSU — control kickoff times. CBS gets the first selection of SEC games each week for its 2:30 p.m. time slot, followed by selections from ESPN and the SEC Network for time slots that range from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This week’s selection process included a different component: an extra CBS game at 11 a.m., part of once-a-year daytime doubleheader. The network chose Georgia-Auburn for its normal 2:30 slot and South Carolina-Florida for its 11 a.m. kick.
Mississippi State-Alabama is ESPN’s primetime game at 6 p.m., sending the Tigers-Razorbacks to ESPN’s 11 a.m. slot. It is LSU's first home game before 1 p.m. since an 11 a.m. kickoff against Kentucky in 2011.
In fact, just four of LSU's last 24 games in Tiger Stadium have been during the day, and two of those (South Carolina in 2015 and Florida in 2016) were relocated from opposing stadiums because of weather events. In 2014, every single regular-season game, home or away, was played under the lights.
For years, Alleva, through conference officials, has fought for the networks to respect the program’s late-game tradition.
“We try to help all 14 schools with their traditions,” said Herb Vincent, the league’s associate commissioner for communications. “Other factors come into to play at times, so it always doesn’t work out for everyone.”
SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack acts as a liaison between schools and TV networks.
“The SEC and ESPN have been great partners with us on night games,” Alleva said. “Since I have been here I have made night games a point of emphasis, and we get a lot of them.”
Welcome to Film Room, our weekly analysis of LSU’s last football game.
The night-game tradition at LSU was born in 1931 when former athletic director T.P. “Skipper” Heard sought a way to avoid the heat and humidity of south Louisiana days. Night kickoffs are as deeply rooted as the school’s purple-and-gold color scheme, the block “LSU” letters and Tiger Stadium’s famous dormitories.
The program even touts night affairs in its media guide, proclaiming LSU traditionally plays better at night (.746 winning percent) than during the day (.665).
Of late, it doesn’t matter either way. The Tigers have won 14 of their past 15 home day games, and they’re 8-3 in those 11 games played at noon or earlier since '69.
The biggest issue the school faces with day kickoffs is attendance, something Alleva acknowledged.
“An early time slot like this usually means attendance is lighter than normal, and we want our fans to come out and support this team,” Alleva said. “They feed off that energy. That’s what’s most important here — the players.”
Coach Ed Orgeron on Monday jokingly encouraged fans to “put a little something” in their coffee, a nod to the beverages normally found under the tents of LSU tailgates.
Tailgating is another LSU tradition impacted by such an early kickoff. Some tailgaters plan to start Friday night and others will rev up in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
The high for this Saturday is a cool and breezy 75 degrees, “a perfect fall day,” Alleva said.
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“Our tailgate cooks will have a field day with brunch,” he said. “I can smell the bacon already.”
For Orgeron and staff, an early kickoff means an adjusted schedule. Meetings and walk-throughs normally done at the team’s hotel on Saturdays are pushed to Friday. Players' wake-up call, normally between 9-10 a.m., will be more like 6-7 a.m. Saturday, LaCouture said.
This isn’t the first time these players and coaches have dealt with a morning kickoff. LSU’s Citrus Bowl game against Louisville in December kicked off at 11:08 a.m. — Eastern Time — from Orlando, Florida.
The result: LSU 29, Louisville 9.
“We played one of the best bowl games we've played here in a while,” Orgeron said.
Some players, like center Will Clapp, enjoy early games. It’s less time to time get anxious mulling around the team hotel.
Others, like receiver DJ Chark, will miss sleeping in until 10 a.m. and then, after lunch, taking a nap. There will be no time for a nap Saturday — not before the game, at least.
“Got to get everything going early,” Chark said, smiling. “Can’t be sleeping on the field.”
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